I am not sure why I haven’t written here for this long. Maybe because moving house and settling in has been taking up a lot of my creative energy; maybe because I had run out of steam a bit about meals and memories… but over the weekend on a Saturday a month ago, I found myself at around 10 o clock, armed with a shopping list, in my local veggie shop. On the list: Fresh coriander, black beans(tins), sweetcorn, ripe avocados, fresh red chillies, lemons, and further down, underneath the by now routine item of sparkling wine: Big Pot. No, not THAT! Nor an item which the greengrocer sells of course, but I knew that I needed to find a big, even aluminium if I had to, pot so that I could cook enough Chilli con carne for 35 people.
I have never cooked this kind of meal for so many people: I have made other kinds of food, like lamb kebabs and falafel in great quantities before, for my 50th birthday party, but not this one-pot kind of meal: ever! I had vaguely considered using three pots: I have enough space on my beautiful gas cooker in my beautiful new kitchen, but on reflection, realised that it would be more sensible, and far easier for seasoning and such to have one big pot.
The problem was that I did not have one. Not even a stock pan, I am ashamed to admit! The pasta pot might have worked if I had been planning a smaller dinner party. I suddenly wished, as I opened and closed my pot drawers a couple of times( as if suddenly a suitable pot would appear) that I could call my mom and ask if I could borrow hers. She had one really big Hart aluminium pot which only came out when she needed to do something like cook a large quantity of soup for some event or the other. I think that she inherited it from her mother: I have vague memories of a huge stock pot bubbling away on my maternal gran’s coal stove..
But, of course, neither my mother nor my grandmother is alive any longer, and I do not know anyone who might have one, so Big Pot landed up on my last list of things to do and get before the housewarming / birthday party for my fiancee that same night,where we invited friends most of whom had not yet been to our new house.
I knew exactly where I would find such an item though. Earlier this month we went out to an Indian restaurant in Linden, and in the shop window where we parked, I saw a row of aluminium pots, from enormous to small, and cast iron pots, and enamelled teapots. Peering through the window, we both were reminded of those old-fashioned stores, which sold anything from BIC ballpoint pens to paraffin lamps: this was such a shop. Walking into it on Saturday morning, I was instantly transported to what we used to call “plaaswinkels” (farm shops). My parents had a worse name for those, in a very racist apartheid era, which I cannot repeat here. But I think you get the idea: a shop filled to the brim with cheap, seemingly random items, not only paraffin lamps in this one, but also primus stoves(remember those?) and on the far side, big bags of maize and blocks of yellow soap. And thankfully, a couple of really big pots. I grabbed the second biggest and paid for it, but then changed my mind and got the biggest one and paid in the price difference. I had to tell of course: the shopkeeper, an oldish scraggy looking white man with stained front teeth asked: “What are you cooking, young lady?” and a large black woman flashed a bright white smile when she heard that I was cooking for 35 people. “Yourself? she asked, and smiled approvingly at my answer.
Back in my kitchen I tried it on top of the stove, and voilá! it fitted almost perfectly on top of the wok burner. And the chilli was duly cooked. To perfection I might add: I was worried about one thing only: that I might burn it: hot gas flame under rather thin aluminium is so not how I am used to cooking.
Just before we dished up, I fired up the burner again and one of the guests could not resist quoting Shakespeare: “Bubble, Bubble….” as I stirred the fragrant chilli con carne made of about 2 and a half kilos of leanest mince, around 8 tins of tomato, 6 tins of beans: butter, red kidney and black beans. And fresh chillies and garlic and cumin and red peppers and onions. And I felt suitably witchy, in my black party dress, completely aware of having transformed very humble ingredients, as humble as my pot, into something wonderfully tasty and nourishing, eaten with visible relish by all.